Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Fair Point, But The Timing's Off

The Kidderminster game ended to a chorus of “What a load of rubbish” from the Wrexham fans. It wasn’t a great night.

I understand their frustration and they certainly have the right to air their views. After all, our away following is superb, and yet again they went in tremendous numbers, this time to an away night game as well. However, I feel their timing was off at Kidderminster.

For me, the players didn’t deserve to hear that. Not on Tuesday. After Silvio Spann was sent off for a rash lunge with barely fifteen minutes left, it was always going to be difficult to get a result against a side whose manager consistently produces teams which play neat, attacking football.

The team’s response to going a man down was gutsy, to the point of heroism, I felt. They regrouped and worked their socks off. People often say that all they ask from their players is effort; well on that criteria you couldn't fault them. You might be able to ask for more quality, but you certainly couldn’t have asked for more fight.

Yes, perhaps we were too defensive. Perhaps the promising Lamine Sakho was left too isolated, especially when we had set pieces and tended to sling it early to him without getting players up in support. However, there can be no doubt that the players showed genuine spirit, and tried to keep going even when the game was clearly gone.

There have been other games this season when I think anger would have been more appropriate. The failure to break down Barrow, for example, was frustrating, and our problems when faced with a side which sets out first and foremost to deny us is my greatest worry.

Likewise, collapsing at home to Kettering was a real disappointment as we conceded sloppy goals and again failed to trouble a disciplined defence, and the Chester game was grim.

But I think we have to keep a sense of perspective. We were up against it from the start on Tuesday, and the players did their best to defy the odds. Indeed, in the first half Kidderminster didn’t have an effort on goal worth mentioning, whereas we had a couple of dangerous moments on the break.

It's totally understandable that our fans, as loyal and patient a bunch as you can imagine, are gettng frustrated. To be honest it's remarkable, and a real compliment to them, that they haven't voted with their feet and decided to stop coming. They have every right to protest, and if they're at the end of their collective tether then that's understandable. I don't think yesterday was the performance that tipped us over the edge though,

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Prepare For A Test

I can’t help fearing Sunday’s game. Maybe it’s a fatalism born from realism: I’ve suffered so many disappointments and false dawns over the last few years that I expect to be let down by Wrexham.

It’s a shame, because I really want to be carried away by Tuesday. In fact, for twenty-four hours or so I was. We absolutely hammered the side the media have assured us is much too good for The Conference to the extent that Chris Maxwell didn’t have a save to make in the entire match! It was terrific! We looked balanced, competitive, dangerous. How could a struggling side like Chester be expected to deal with us in that sort of mood?

But that’s where reality started to kick in for me. A big part of the reason why we were all so delighted by Tuesday’s performance is that it came so completely out of the blue. We’d looked poor for the previous month, and hadn’t approached the form we showed pre-season since things got serious, so it was understandable that we got carried away.

Anyway, it was just one game; when did we last follow up a good performance with another? And who knows if Dean Saunders will decide to stick with the same line-up or rotate again on Sunday?

Also, anyone who thinks Chester will be pushovers are kidding themselves. We all know the cliché: no derby is easy. However, the thought that poor old City, marooned at the bottom of the table, aren’t competitive is a false one. Before Tuesday they had earned nine points, just one less than us. Not much of a gulf there then! And anyway, even if they can’t save themselves from relegation against impossible odds, they can surely raise themselves for their two derbies, scrap like hell, and give their fans something to sing about for years to come?

It all reminds me of that season in the 1990s when Chester were cut adrift at the bottom of League One while we were riding high. When the derbies came around city’s fate seemed sealed...but they still emerged with two draws from the games, which punctured Wrexham’s play-off hopes and gave Chester’s fans bragging rights even though their weak side sank pathetically into League Two. The second match, when we threw away a lead against a side that had been reduced to nine men, was particularly awful.

There’s no way Chester are going to be lambs to the slaughter, but we did perform in a manner which most Conference sides wouldn’t be able to live with on Tuesday. Fasten your seatbelts on Sunday. It’s going to be a hell of a ride!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Saturday, 19 September 2009

How many officials does it take............

to look after a game of football. I was at Goodison Park on Thursday night to watch the Europe League match between Everton and AEK Athens which was part of UEFA's £1.6 million experiment with two additional assistants placed behind the goalline in an effort to eliminate controversies such as Eduardo's dive and Crystal Palace's goal that wasn't.

My observations are as follows:
1. The presence of the two guys seemed to effect the referees ability to make a decision without first looking in their direction. This could well be down to the newness of the situation as according to Graham Poll, who was also at the game, the referee didn't get a briefing by video until 2.30pm on the day.
2. For the majority of the game the two additional assistants resembled a spare part with neither flag nor whistle they didn't know what to do, when to signal etc etc. It was a pleasant Merseyside evening on Thursday but come deepest December or January they are going to freeze their proverbial b*ll*cks off!
3. For leagues lower down the pecking order who often struggle to get a fourth official just where will the two additional assistants come from or is this as always just for the elite in the game? Besides which the quality of referees at Conference level is already not great we will really have to dredge the bottom of the barrel to find two more worthy souls!
4. And finally just how often will their input be needed, David Moyes rightly commented that even with a referee, two assistants, a fourth official and the two extra assistants they all missed Louis Saha being kicked before he retaliated with a brush across the Greek players face to earn himself a red card.

So in conclusion do we need to change the beautiful game or is it doing just fine as it is.


Monday, 14 September 2009

Prolific Wrexham Strikers Shocker!

We might be struggling to score goals, but the players we farm out to the League of Wales seem to be finding the net pretty easily.
Steve Abbott got another two for TNS at the weekend, to continue his successful start for them, while Obi Anoruo hit the net for Newtown as well.
Abbot has hit five goals in his six games for TNS and, from what I can see from the highlights on S4C, is playing as a traditional centre forward rather than in the attacking midfield role Dean Saunders bought him for. I must admit that some dubious League of Wales defending has contributed to some of his goals, not least against Airbus a couple of weeks ago when his initial inability to put an easy chance away was compensated for by the defence's even greater ineptitude at clearing the ball!
I'm not sure what Abbott's goals tell us. Any player in scoring form is not to be sniffed at, although it might be argued that the defences he'll come up against while on loan are rather more porous than those in The Conference.
Still, it'd be interesting to have an insight into Saunders' thinking over Abbott. has he farmed him out to gain confidence from first team play? Or has he decided he made a mistake in making Abbott his first transfer and is looking to put him in the shop window, as he did with Darran Kempson, Carl Tremarco, Nat Brown and others?
Obi, on the other hand, surely has a future at the Racecourse and is just being sent out to get experience. He certainly looks to be taking the opportunity with both hands as he marked his debut with a goal in Newtown's first win of the season and followed it up by opening the scoring at Llanelli on Saturday with a well-taken one-on-one. Hopefully Anoruo can fill his boots and return to us ready to make an impression, Soon!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Happy Ending for Neil Roberts, But Not Us

It seems Neil Roberts has called time on his playing career to take up an opportunity at Manchester City. Link

It's a brilliant opportunity for him, and naturally I wish him well. He's a fine man and will suit a role which appears to require decency and common sense as he's well-endowed with both qualities. His decision casts the ludicrous decision of Brian Little to release him into an even starker light, though.

Little called time on his career in the pyramid when there was plenty more for him to offer. I remember Roberts saying, as our relegation season drew to a conclusion, that he wanted to stay on and fight our cause in the Conference and I was delighted that, although we were likely to lose players, our best performer would make the drop with us. Incredibly, Little didn't see it that way.

There's no slight towards Rhyl ntended-I've developed a soft spot for them and it's good to see them making a strong start to the season when some of the players who took them to the title last year are gone. However, it would be interesting to see if Roberts would decide to stop playing if he received this offer while he was still playing for his hometown club.

We'll never know the answer, of course, although I can't deny that, as I look at a Wrexham midfield which is crying out for someone to take control in the centre of the pitch, I can't help wondering how things might have turned out if our player of the season hadn't been immediately jettisoned by a manager whose reasoning was, to put it mildly, flawed.

I can only wish Little's new club, Gainsborough Trinity, the best of luck. They'll need it!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The Season Starts Here!

It'll be good to get back to action on Saturday, and it'll be interesting to see just what sort of game we get. It might be our first real chance to actually guage just how good Dean Saunders' new-look side actually is.

Fabio Capello said, when he took charge of Real Madrid for his last spell, that after fifty days you would be able to see what sort of team he had assembled. Unfortunately for him, on the fiftieth day of his reign they were thrashed by Getafe! (Nonetheless he did go on to win the league!) The point was you can't expect a side to gel straight away, or a coach to immediately work his magic. You might get that artificial boost a new manager brings, but it takes time to bed things in.

So it's premature to draw too many conclusions about our prospects for the season based on what we've seen so far. It would also be misleading, as we've yet to face the sort of challenge we'll come up against on Saturday. Thus far we've tended to face sides who come to the Racecourse looking for a clean sheet, but surely Oxford will come out to play. They're the first genuine promotion contenders we've come across, with the possible exception of Crawley, who are a scrappy bunch anyway.

This isn't necessarily a bad thng. Sure, they'll clearly be better player-for-player than anyone we've come up across thus far-in fact I fancy them to pip Luton to the title, to be honest. However, they'll also let us play, and that might answer a key question. Are we good enough to be up there, looking to pip them?

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Tugay or Not Tugay?

So now we're signing a player who last season was looking good in The Premiership, eh? Forgive me if I contain my excitement.

Don't get me wrong: I'd love it to be true. It's just that I don't see a single shred of evidence that it is.

There are two basic truths about these types of stories:

1. Usually they're not true.

2. When they are true, nothing comes of them.

I'll stand by point number one through thick and thin. Show me one piece of information to confirm the story beyond an assumption based on Tugay reportedly being at Collier's park last week and has worked with Dean Saunders.

As for point number two, you might argue that the signing of Andy Crofts was, on paper, a "too good to be true" transfer story as he was clearly out of our league in terms of his pedigree (if not in actuality!) However, I'll see your Crofts and raise you a Savage and a Musampa.

The main source seems to be a thread on Red Passion. Now we all know that such threads can be hijacked by wind up merchants, but there's a lot of sense spoken on this one-certainly more than in The Mirror's flimsy excuse for a story. It raises a question which is worth considering, and the answer to which will solve the conundrum: why aren't The Leader and The Daily Post asking about this? My gut feeling is it's because they know it's not a story.

Hope I'm wrong though!

Sunday, 6 September 2009


My column in The Leader last Friday focussed on the effect of international breaks on the team, particularly the impact of Dean Saunders' absence from Colliers Park.
While that's clearly an important issue, particularly when you consider the remarkable record Denis Smith enjoyed after he'd been allowed an extended opportunity to work with his squad, I completely neglected perhaps the more important question. Is it worth playing on in order to avoid falling behind the rest of The league?
Admittedly The Conference is taking action to try and avoid the ludicrous fixture congestion it has suffered in recent seasons by insisting that teams rearrange postponed games as swiftly as possible.
Already I've paid the price for this, thinking I was a genius for arranging a few days away during an empty midweek and then finding I'd miss the Tamworth match because I was in Moscow! Actually, considering the performance, perhaps I got a lucky break there!
The two games we're missing out on now will be played before Christmas, so we do have a chance to make up the ground we lose, but it is disheartening to see that the top of the table is already ten points away, and that the gap is likely to be wider again after the midweek fixtures.
At least, from a financial point of view, none of the games we've lost so far have been Saturday home games. Also, it can't hurt Chris Maxwell and Neil Taylor to play their part in beating Italy's finest-and the value they attach to their youth teams, bolstered by the Primavera system, means that beating the Italians at any level is always a serious achievement.

Scouting Mission

And having said this morning that an experienced keeper like Ward or Williams could fill a short term gap,I've just looked at the squads for tonights Masters Football final which I'm about to head off for with my Dad and my lad, and guess who's in goal for Leicester? Mr Ward himself!

I'll send a full report to Deano in the morning!

Saunders Gets Sak

It was an obvious headline to avoid, but there are other reasons why I'm glad we haven't diving into signing young Erwin.
I'll happily subscribe to the notion that we should bring in another goalie: if, heaven forbid, something should happen to Chris Maxwell, we'd be in a hell of a hole. However, the permanent signature of another young keeper wouldn't be the correct response.
Sam Russell's injury notwithstanding, the goalkeeping position looks pretty healthy to me. Russell has made a positive initial impression, and Maxwell's development is certainly coming along nicely: his ability to put Ashley Westwood in his place at Forest Green certainly suggests he doesn't lack confidence!
The sort of player we need to draft in, if we take pre-emptive action to cover Maxwell, is an experienced goalie who would around to support Maxwell as well as stand in if necessary. Goalkeeping is a solitary, unique job: outfield players don't understand it properly,a nd most managers and coaches are ex-outfielders, so you need a bit of support, especially if you're a young keeper like Maxwell. Bringing in an Andy Dibble figure could be a stroke of genius, although there is another course that could be taken equally successfully.
Saunders might well have a player lined up and ready to sign if required, but doesn't want to waste a loan player on someone who might end up never taking the pitch. This is a sensible approach as long as maxwell doesn't injure himself just before a game, leaving no time for all the paperwork to be completed! Ironically, the likes of Anthony Williams or Gavin Ward would be absolutely ideal for that sort of approach, although if a forty-year-old keeper who is willing to warm the bench he's after, I'm available!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Is a settled side a good thing?

So far this season Dean Saunders has used 20 players to start our 7 Blue Square matches with only Mansour Assoumani and Mark Jones being ever present. Hedi Taboubi and Gareth Taylor have started six each, so is it a good or a bad thing to keep chopping and changing the side?

The old phrase of never change a winning side comes to mind so what are the teams at the top and bottom of the table doing? Top of the table Oxford have 4 ever presents and 3 who have missed one game so 64% of their team has been relatively settled. They have used 17 players so far though. Chester at the bottom have only played 5 matches so far but they have 7 ever presents. Some other sample teams Cambridge have 8 ever presents and sit in 8th position having used 14 players whilst Mansfield have 7 ever presents and 3 who have played in 6. The Stags have also only used 14 players so far this season and sit in second place in the table. Rushden, in 15th position, have used 17 with 3 ever presents and 4 more having started six matches similar to Oxford.

Whilst there will never be a definitive answer to "tinker man" or settled side due to the nature of the game the evidence above seems to point to as long as the players are good enough and play a familiar system it doesn't matter how many you use. Wrexham so far this season from this sample have used the most players whilst Mansfield and Cambridge have used the least. Yet Oxford have used 17 players and Luton have used 18 of which 4 are ever present like the U's.

One thing is certain though fans like to see a winning team and managers are under pressure to deliver one. I still wonder whether Saunders yet knows his best side from his squad. Once he does my own view is that you play them together as often as possible but then I'm not a football coach!!


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